Video Length: 2:25 min
One of the great unknown facts in modern musical history is that only a handful of musicians played on 90% of the top ten songs heard on the radio in the 60s and '70s? At Aldon Music, in New York City, they had the “Brill Building Players.” At Atlantic Records, they used the “Muscle Shoals Players”; while in Detroit, Motown they had the fabulous “Funk Brothers”. In the southern U.S., STAX Records used their white soul “Memphis Boys” supported by the famous “Memphis Horns”, and in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country music, it was the “A-Team or The Nashville Cats” as some artists called them. Even the 1960’s “British Invasion” required a bit of professional polishing here and there with players called “The Fixers”. But in Los Angeles, from 1962 till 1975, a legendary group of studio musicians dubbed “The Wrecking Crew” played on a number of the era's defining songs. You might not know them, but you've definitely heard them on hundreds of hit records. It’s amazing what happens when you assemble the right people in a recording studio, on a film set, with a sports team, a special operations team or a corporate board room. It can be pure magic.
The Wrecking Crew played on hits by everyone from The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, The Righteous Brothers, the Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees, Frank Sinatra, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Elvis Presley. They provided Phil Spector with his famous "Wall of Sound" recording style. It is estimated that they played on 39 number one records and over 150 songs that made the top ten from 1962 to 1975. The number of top 40 hits they played on is unknown.
Coming together in the heart of Hollywood in the early 1960s, “The Wrecking Crew”, also known as "The Clique" or "The First Call Gang," included a revolving cast of about 30 to 35 session players. But its core musicians were drummers Hal Blaine, Jim Keltner, “Fast Eddie Hoh and Jim Gordon (later of Derek & The Dominos), guitarists Tommy Tedesco, P.F. Sloan and Glen Campbell (yes, that Glen Campbell), bass players Carol Kaye, Ray Pohlman and Larry Knechtel (later keyboard and bassist for Bread), and keyboardists Don Randi, Mike Rubini and Leon Russell (the organizer, the producer and the band leader behind Joe Cockers’ infamous 1970 “Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour). Britain’s, “The Fixers” included Jim Sullivan, Bobby Graham and Jeff Beck (of The Yardbirds) or Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (founding members of Led Zepplin).
The Wrecking Crew were the studio professionals who created 60’s Rock N’ Roll classics "Be My Baby," "California Girls," "Mrs. Robinson," “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Kicks,” "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," "Viva Las Vegas," "Mr. Tambourine Man,” and Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night”." They were the musicians on Elvis Presley’s carrier reviving comeback TV special in 1968. They were the| the band heard on the Beach Boys' revolutionary album, “Pet Sounds” and their biggest hit single, “Good Vibrations”.
Decision, Design, and Discipline
This story resonates with me professionally on so many different levels. The book is fascinating, but the documentary film is exceptional in making the viewer understand what a great team the “Wrecking Crew” were. What makes it so interesting to me is that it’s not about assembling the best musicians for each recording session, but about bringing the right musicians together for a specific recording session.
Throughout my professional life, I’ve found that surrounding one’s self with the right people can do more to create success than bringing in a bunch of all-stars. Like musicians, a team needs to feel the same groove, get into the chord structure, and harmonize while allowing blistering solos here and there.
The battlefield is no different; knowing what the person beside you is doing and what they will do next is key to achieving success, especially if you are outgunned and outmanned. Talent, desire, education, and rehearsing it over and over again to create the required battle rhythm to win.
In business, I have seen the best of the best side by side and watched them bring about near destruction of a project because there was no melody shared between them. Contrastingly, I’ve watched a 25-year-old woman with a master’s degree in French literature and a 30-year business veteran with a little more than a community college class here or there work together on a real estate proposal in Indonesia. Their rhythm was like a fine-tuned classical orchestra. When they exchanged ideas, it was like watching two New York Metropolitan Opera singers sharing a stage for a Presidential performance.
It’s not about putting the best of the best on stage, it’s about looking at your bandmates and figuring out who plays what instrument the best for a particular song. Some of the best musicians play multiple instruments, thus they fit almost anywhere because they know the groove of the other instruments. I’ve found that people who have worked in varying vocational sectors tend to bring not a subject matter expertise to a problem, but a multitude of perspectives based on observation, insight and true problem-solving skills. You can use that person in human resources, marketing, recruiting sales, and training and you will rarely be disappointed.
So, what is your bands tune? How many instruments do you need to get the right sound? Can they harmonize and still deliver a mind-blowing solo? Where’s your “Wrecking Crew” for tomorrows project?